What is an electronic program guide, and why is its absence holding back Australian digital TV? Valens Quinn investigates.

Just like you wouldn?t plan a road-trip without a map, a program guide is an invaluable tool for anyone who watches digital TV. Think of it as an automatically updated electronic version of a paperback TV guide, only you can view it on your TV screen. If you have a digital set-top-box or media centre PC, you can also use this to schedule recordings of programs due to air during the week. In fact, a big selling points of hard-disk based digital set-top-boxes and Media Centre PCs is that with an EPG, you can easily select the shows you want to see over the coming week, or even schedule weekly and daily recordings. This way, you?ll get to watch what you want, even if you?re not around when the show originally airs.

Sounds great right? Well, there?s only one problem. There isn?t actually a freely available EPG service in Australia. While viewers do see a limited amount of programming information along with the show their watching on digital TV, they don?t get a full week?s worth. This includes the name of the program currently being shown, some information about what that show is about, and the time and date the show is on. Also, networks will let you know what program is coming up next, when it starts, and usually a synopsis of the program. While the free-to-air networks theoretically could provide the details for an entire week?s programming, like the TiVo service in the US, the networks here aren?t exactly jumping at the idea.